Celebrated Korean director Park Chan-Wook's new film Thirst shared the Jury Prize at Cannes with Andrea Arnold's excellent Fish Tank. To its credit, the film is a fresh cinematographic take on the old vampire theme, with an exciting rhythm and interesting camera-work. However, I was still a bit surprised by the jury's decision, as the film has too limited a subtext to justify all the gore, especially after the first hour, when things get really bloody.
The point of the film seems to be that being a vampire is a way to rebel against sexual repression and social boundaries, especially if you are Catholic (the main vampire is a priest). Yet after that, the movie is just sucking, sex, blood and more blood. A fellow journalist said he had a problem drinking his cup of coffee right after the screening.
Chan-Wook, an introverted young man wearing a wrinkled grey shirt, met with journalists at the Cannes Majestic Hotel, and his comments did reveal a deeper intent. He agreed that his film is partly about the priest "not being able to control these repressed desires anymore." Yet, he also underscored the more ethical meaning of the film:
The control system which has been working inside the priest to repress all these desires has been broken, triggered by becoming a vampire, and this leads to a downfall in his character. It is a thrilling downfall, like the experience of bungee-cord jumping. All the same, it is definitely a downfall: he is a noble person with high principles.
Before the priest drank the blood of Christ, to help humanity, now he drinks blood to survive.
As a matter of fact, Chan-Wook spent most of our conversation emphasizing his ethical intent in his film: "I want to bring up the seriousness of important life moments -- using comedy at those moments -- such as when the priest sips from an intravenous tube to survive," he said.
He also defended his early work, the acclaimed film Oldboy, from charges of inspiring violence in audience members (a copycat murder had followed).
"Taxi Driver too was blamed for inspiring violence. Audience members take the work out of context. My vampire film deliberately uses gore in a way that the typical audience member who likes slasher films cannot take pleasure from it," he said.
The question remains whether the typical audience member who does not like slasher films would be able to find enough in Thirst to keep them thirsty for more.